“Many people believe that race is no longer a significant issue in the United States,” says Sarah Rusche, a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the study. “But the fact that a third of servers admit to varying their quality of service based on customers’ race, often giving African-Americans inferior service, shows that race continues to be an issue in our society.”
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The researchers wanted to determine to what extent a customer’s race affects the way in which they are treated at a restaurant so they surveyed 200 servers, about 86 percent of them were white, at 18 full-service chain eateries in central North Carolina. The survey revealed that 38.5 percent of the servers adjusted their quality of service based on the customer’s race.
The survey also found that 52.8 percent of servers reported seeing other wait staff discriminate against African-American customers by giving them poor service at least some of the time.
Racism is even more pervasive behind the scenes at restaurants as the study also indicated that anti-Black perceptions about their patrons was thoroughly discussed among waiters. Only a mere 10.5 percent reported never engaging in or observing racial discourse.
The study’s findings indicate that many servers perceive African Americans as being rude and/or poor tippers, suggesting that black patrons, in particular, are likely targets of servers’ self-professed discriminatory actions.
“’Tableside racism’ is yet another example where African Americans are stereotyped and subsequently treated poorly in everyday situations,” says Rusche. “Race continues to be a significant barrier to equal treatment in restaurants and other areas of social life.”